By NATALIE MARTIN
When Puyallup residents Dylan Hutson and Molly DelDuca took a day trip to Vashon Sunday, seeing the bike in the tree was high on the young couple’s list of things to do.
However, when they found the bike tucked in the woods by Sound Food, they were disappointed by what they saw.
“It’s not like I’ve seen in the photos,” Hutson said. “It’s still cool, but it’s depressing I guess.”
Recent vandalism has left the bike in the tree mostly missing in the front, with no handlebars, front wheel, fork or fender. While the bike in the tree has lost its handlebars several times over the years, those familiar with the popular attraction say they’ve never seen it look so bad.
“It has definitely deteriorated since last year,” said Jim Marsh, director of Vashon’s chamber of commerce. “It’s unfortunate that someone would do that.”
Since the bike in the tree was discovered lodged in a fir tree off Vashon Highway decades ago, it has attracted countless visitors, been featured on local news stations and inspired urban legends about how it became stuck there.
But one local family has laid claim to the bike. Don Puz, who now lives in Eastern Washington, said he put the bike in the tree in 1954, when he was 8. Given to him as a gift after his family’s home burned in a fire, the bike was too small for him, so he left it behind in the woods one day.
Puz’s sister, Madeline Bost, still owns the family’s second home near Center and recently began renting it out as a vacation home called the The Bicycle in the Tree House. Bost still visits the island and says she’s been pleased that over the years community members have taken care of the bicycle.
Jeff Ammon, who until recently owned Vashon Island Bicycles, replaced the handlebars at least three times after they were stolen.
“I consider him the bike’s guardian angel,” Bost said. “He’s been looking out for the bike for a while now.”
Jeff Cunningham, who owns the property the bike is on, made a wooden footbridge to replace the shaky plywood that once crossed a ditch to the tree, something he says he did for liability reasons. And Bost believes someone has even trimmed back the foliage around the tree.
But when Bost returned to the island last week and visited the bike, she was saddened to see it in such poor condition.
“People we talked with yesterday had come to the island to see the bike in the tree,” she said last week. “We ought to be doing more to protect one of the best assets on the island.”
Bost suggested the bike could be surrounded by a fence that would prevent people from taking parts of it.
“They could stand in front of it and get their photo with it, but not be able to touch it,” she said.
Marsh, with the chamber of commerce, said he believes part of the charm of the of the bike in the tree is that it hasn’t become a typical tourist attraction — it doesn’t have signage, souvenirs for sale or plaques telling its story. Just finding it can be a challenging but fun experience for some visitors.
“I’m glad we haven’t exploited it,” he said.
While he doubts many people come to Vashon solely to visit the bike in the tree, he says it’s a top attraction for most Vashon tourists, and it may be an extra allure for visitors considering coming out. He noted that the bike has also been featured on RoadsideAmerica.com, a popular website that lists tourist attractions around the country.
“Does it increase business on the island? Probably not. But it’s a famous thing, and we want to keep it up,” he said.
The chamber would likely support fencing the tree off, Marsh said, though he noted it is on private property, and some people might still hop a fence to get to it.
“You’re never going to protect it fully,” he said.
Jeff Cunningham, who owns Sound Food with islander Greg Stoffer, said the two of them didn’t purchase the property because of the bike, but they like that it’s there.
“It doesn’t directly affect me,” he said, “but I always liked the story of it, and I enjoy it.”
He said he would be open to installing a fence around the bike, especially if it was a community effort.
“I would listen to anything that might help preserve it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ammon, who had to close his bike shop earlier this year, says he may be able to help the bike again. He was contacted by Bost about the most recently vandalism and said he would look through the bicycle parts he has leftover from his shop for anything that might fit.
Ammon has always been a fan of the bike, he said, so much so that he even put a small bike in a tree outside his former shop.
He remembers once when the bike lost part of its front fork, and someone either returned it or replaced it.
“I heard Berkeley Breathed had someone take it apart,” he said, referring to the author of the popular children’s book based on the bike in the tree. “But it’s just a rumor as far as I know,” he said with a laugh.
Finding parts to fit the small and dated bike can be a challenge, he said, but he would give it a try.
“I think it’s important to do something and not let it sit there and go to waste.”